Instances of hazing deaths have been tracked in the United States since 1838. The attitude of “I’d do whatever it takes” to get in (fill in the blank: class, club, team, sorority, fraternity…) has a lot to say about self-acceptance, self-esteem, insecurity and status—especially on campus where young men and women are frequently having their first significant time away from home.
First-time feature director-writer David Burkman has cobbled together a film that finds its focus through brotherhood on two very distinct planes. Nick (Kirk Curran) and his brother Pete (Mike Blejer) are both attending the same school; Nick decides to pledge Psi Theta Epsilon while Pete assembles videographic evidence to shut down the storied (good, bad and often ugly) fraternity that recently lost one of their own during Hell Week—literally abandoning the poor bastard on a path far from their house. Of course, the other notion of brotherhood (and sisterhood—Burkman wisely provides gender balance but never plays the queer card: perhaps the subject for another project) are the big brothers of the new recruits who will go out of their way to humiliate, embarrass, bully and physically/psychologically hurt their in charges to determine if they are worthy of joining the clan. In this case, led by Jeremy O’Shea as Taylor.
Although at times the writing is uneven (Pete’s character and motivations would benefit from further back-story and development), the actual process from boxers-only Line-up! through to a spectacularly shot/edited Hell Week (Burkman, Jeff McCutcheon and Akiva Potok behind the cameras; Ryan Carpenter, Tony Leech and Matthew McClain)—the strobe lights and grainy black-and-white sequences effectively captured the dark activities, simultaneously reinforcing the point of view of the battered, drunk-beyond-belief pledges in the culmination of being accepted.
From the women’s side of pledging, we learn that many of them can be just as brutal as the men and when there is chance to co-mingle, the boxers and panties fall down before you can chug your first beer (the sex scenes reveal just enough to make the point). Kristin Rogers is particularly effective as Nick’s sometime girlfriend while Sophia Medley delivers a finely nuanced take on the more experienced Sophie.
As would be expected, the music tracks are as varied as the situations. Especially welcome is the inclusion of Kay Barker’s haunting voice at poignant/important moments (notably the homecoming scene where Jane Watson’s edgy viola provides ideal contrast).
When the climactic moment of “doing whatever it takes” arrives, the production moves into the very core of the human condition, spawning the inevitable showdown between the pledges and their masters, that without all of the intentional mayhem that came before, might have produced feelings of pride and belonging on both sides of the divide, rather than shame, despair and the need to wash away the blood (Shakespeare is never far away).
Thank goodness it’s all fiction and those days of barbaric acts are long gone…making the ongoing hazing deaths list on Wikipedia seem like another example of fake news. JWR